Rick Scott’s latest round of scandals 

A private passenger rail line and a natural gas pipeline create another ethics conundrum

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“Here’s my experience in business. If you enter into a project where it’s not a good transaction for the other side, it always comes back to be a problem for you. My concern with [high-speed rail] is, you look at the ridership studies, and I don’t think there’s any way anyone’s going to
get a return.”

– Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 upon rejecting federal funding for high-speed rail in February 2011

JUST THE STATS

 

$2.4 billion

Amount Gov. Rick Scott rejected in federal money for high-speed rail in 2011; the rail initiative was projected to bring 27,000 jobs to the state

 

$3 billion

Projected cost of the Sabal Trail Transmission natural gas pipeline connecting Alabama to a hub south of Orlando; Scott owned a $53,000 stake in Spectra Energy, which was chosen by Florida Power and Light to build the pipeline, as of December 2013

 

$1.5 billion

Amount All Aboard Florida – a private train enterprise connecting Miami to Orlando – is seeking in federal loans and state grants; $213 million in state money is earmarked for a terminal at Orlando International Airport

A scandal runs through it

Wouldn’t it be grand – as we splash around in our superhero-soaked annual celebration of superlatives, pointing our fingers and screaming “best!” at those things that tickle our fanciest of fancies – if we didn’t have to look down past our knees and shake our heads in the general direction of an administration built on the worst of behaviors? Like, what if we could scream from the top of solar panels to a field of wind turbines that, hallelujah, the Sunshine State is doing just fine, thank you very much.

But we can’t, and you’re not, because everything is terrible.

Regardless of logic or video evidence or any sense of character judgment, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Kevlar costuming and dilated pupils have thus far held him in inexplicable immunity from sensible recourse (cough, November, cough), even when his own devices seem to be malfunctioning. That $1.7 billion fraud fine for Medicare misdeeds was an opposite-day election boon! The failure to push for Medicaid expansion (even after dragging his personal story of familial loss in front of the camera) hasn’t elicited nearly the outrage that a pile of dead bodies should. All the policies, all the evasion, have only seemed to embolden the antagonist in this passionless political play. What’s it going to take to free our chrome-domed antihero from the shackles of Republican context and expose him for the uniquely unqualified public servant he really is?

How’s about a speeding train and a potentially explosive pipeline problem?

Back in 2010, when everybody (including President Barack Obama) was shouting “infrastructure” like it was the New Deal up in here, Scott was making his signature case that anything that comes with federal funding attached to it is likely covered in cooties and therefore not worth your consideration. There won’t be profits for anyone involved if we move forward with a high-speed rail that might give 27,000 people jobs that they desperately need, even if the government is willing to pay up $2.4 billion to make it so. Oh, how we gasped with incredulity back then. So loud was our dismay that we couldn’t even hear the other train screeching by.

In what can only be referred to from here on out as a chief-of-staff square dance, Scott’s buddy (and chief of staff as of 2012) Adam Hollingsworth was dosey-doing everything he could to oil the tracks for another private rail endeavor, All Aboard Florida, as early as 2010. Hollingsworth’s interests were not at all in the public interests, just as riding a train from Miami to Orlando that takes more than three hours (and lands you at the airport) isn’t exactly in the public’s interest.

But the real issue is whether Hollingsworth was directing policy – via access to Scott, who continues to call All Aboard Florida a private venture when it will indeed filter public money into private pockets – for his own gain.

“The governor already has a hypocritical record on rail, and he owes Floridians some straight answers,” the Tampa Bay Times opined in a harsh editorial last week. (That answer, undoubtedly, will sound a lot like “jobs!” should it ever come.)

Likewise, when the governor allegedly stripped himself of his blind-trust (!) garb and went all transparent last month with his finances, the fine-toothed-combs over at investigative website Broward Bulldog found some more mysteriously traveling dollars, only this time underground. Scott’s love of utility company exploitation isn’t always news – not even when said utilities are fleecing customers for nonexistent nuclear reactors – but this time, Scott’s financials showed him to be financially connected to Spectra Energy to the tune of $53,000. Spectra Energy is partnered with Florida Power and Light’s parent company in bringing you the Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, which, for a mere $3 billion, will be pushing natural gas from Alabama down to just south of Orlando. And the profits are about to come rolling in, if Scott’s apparent scheme works out. According to the Bulldog, the pipeline sailed through legislative approval and through the Scott-appointed Florida Public Service Commission just last year. You know, like greased lightning. Let’s hope this scandal doesn’t catch fire, right? (Wrong.)

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